Gifted is one of those films that doesn’t try and offer a lot of twists and surprises. You know the kind where the trailer reveals the dynamic, conflict and an easy to predict conclusion. For the most part, that’s true here as well, but the cast and overall execution make Gifted a winner.
Chris Evans continues to refine his repertoire. Before he slung shields as Captain America in the Marvel Studios franchise, he was a fixture in the romantic comedy circuit. It’s interesting to see how his work in the mega blockbusters have helped give his performances greater depth and heart. Evans puts that on full display as Frank, the uncle/guardian to a child prodigy.
Mary (McKenna Grace) isn’t thrilled at the idea of attending first grade. Mary finds her peers odd and her teacher, Bonnie (Jenny Slate), incapable of challenging her. Despite Frank’s best efforts, Mary keeps drawing attention to herself from attacking the school bus bully to humiliating Bonnie and other administrators.
Recognizing Mary’s unique education requirements, Frank’s estranged mother, Evelyn (a terrific Lindsay Duncan), resurfaces. Frank is conflicted with trying to do right with Mary and protecting her from the crushing pressure that overwhelmed his sister. Evans has really matured as a performer and he exchanges quips as easily as he does more emotional and tender moments.
Director Marc Webb (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) avoids vilifying Evelyn. With her cold demeanor and biting British wit, it would have been easy to make her the bad guy. Instead, Webb gives Duncan room to humanize Evelyn. A courtroom scene where Frank’s attorney (Glenn Plummer) grills Evelyn is one of the film’s best moments. Not because it’s flashy or dramatic, but because Duncan makes Evelyn vulnerable. And to some extent, Evelyn’s concerns are valid even if her approach isn’t the best.
Tom Flynn’s script also does a great job presenting both sides to the argument. Frank has his own concerns about Mary’s future under his care and there’s some nice real moments that show parenthood or guardianship isn’t always smiles and happy memories.
Grace is outstanding. The script gives her some big-time moments and she consistently delivers. Webb sets the film up smartly to show Mary’s frustration with her current life and dreams of something more. But she’s still a child, which is beautifully shown in two memorable scenes with next door neighbor Roberta (Octavia Spencer in another fantastic supporting role).
Evans and Slate have an obvious chemistry and it’s easy to see why they are a couple behind the scenes as well. Slate has a really charming presence with enough charisma to make Bonnie feel more significant.
Webb confidently lets the story play out allowing for greater character development moments to have the desired emotional impact. The patience pays off with a sweet sunset scene and one endearing moment in the hospital.
Gifted doesn’t shake up the genre, but it’s very well-acted and endearing. Sometimes that makes a movie special enough.
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Photo Credit: Wilson Webb/Fox Searchlight Pictures